In a vote as close as so many of the games in which he played, Eastern Washington University quarterback Erik Meyer won the Walter Payton Award on Thursday.
Meyer edged New Hampshire sophomore quarterback Ricky Santos by five points in the closest race in the 19 years of the award that recognizes the top offensive player in I-AA football.
“It’s just an honor. I feel blessed,” Meyer said in a telephone interview. “I’m lucky to win against these guys here. … I want to thank my teammates. I wouldn’t have won without them.”
The award was presented at the I-AA College Football Awards banquet at The Sheraton Read House Hotel in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Cal Poly defensive end Chris Gocong won the Buck Buchanan Award for the top defensive player, and Sean McDonnell of New Hampshire won the Eddie Robinson Award as the top coach.
The awards are sponsored by The Sports Network. Earlier this week, Meyer was named the first-team quarterback on the TSN and Associated Press All-America teams, with Santos on the second and third teams, respectively.
Meyer, who was fourth in the voting last year when he led the nation in passing efficiency, threw for 3,616 yards and 26 touchdowns with just five interceptions during the regular season, when the voting was conducted. In his three years as a starter, he set 13 school records and the national record for passing efficiency.
“He’s helped bring our whole program from a very solid program to a national-caliber program year in and year out,” said Eagles coach Paul Wulff, who attended the banquet. “He’s helped bring that caliber of player here. As a football player, he’s been a catalyst for that.”
Eastern finished 7-5 after losing at Northern Iowa in the first round of the I-AA playoffs. The four losses to other I-AA teams were by a total of 17 points, none by more than five points.
Northern Iowa plays Appalachian State for the I-AA championship tonight in Chattanooga.
Meyer threw for at least 300 yards in nine of the 12 games with a high of 470, second in school history. Counting the playoff game, in which he threw for 387 yards and five touchdowns, he had 4,003 yards and 30 touchdowns, setting a school record by averaging 333.6 yards a game.
The Eagles finished second in the nation in passing offense (341.8 yards per game).
Meyer is the sixth Big Sky Conference player to win the award, the first since Northern Arizona running back Archie Amerson in 1996. The others were quarterbacks: Montana’s Dave Dickenson (1995), Idaho’s Doug Nussmeier (1993) and John Friesz (1989), and Weber State’s Jamie Martin (1991).
Meyer, a two-time Big Sky Conference Offensive Most Valuable Player while leading the Eagles to consecutive co-championships, finished his career seventh on the Big Sky career total offense list with 10,941 yards and eighth in passing yards with 10,261.
“When you’re little you always dream about being a football player and winning awards,” Meyer said. “My first three years at Eastern I never dreamt about it. Last year, when I was close, I thought I had a chance, but it’s just amazing to be with the other names who have won this award.”
Meyer received 33 first-place votes, two more than Santos, and had 333 total points in voting by media and sports information directors.
Meyer is in the process of picking an agent and preparing for a chance to play in the National Football League.
“Now I start training. My career is far from over,” he said. “I have to work my butt off so I have a chance at the next level. I love this game, and I’m not going to give it up any time soon.”
Gocong is the second consecutive Mustang to receive the Buchanan award, following linebacker Jordan Beck. A 6-3, 265-pound senior, Gocong led the nation with 19 sacks. He had 79 tackles, including 24 for a loss, 14 quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
In a late-season, 40-35 win over Eastern he had nine tackles, four for losses, and two sacks, sparking the Mustangs’ stretch run that saw them make the playoffs for the first time. They lost in the second round and finished with a 9-4 record. Meyer completed 26 of 28 passes for 428 yards and three touchdowns in that game.
In McDonnell’s seventh season New Hampshire finished the regular season with a 10-1 record and No. 1 ranking. The Wildcats lost to Northern Iowa in the second round of the playoffs. UNI beat Texas State, which beat Cal Poly in the second round, in the semifinals.
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